Modest Ashley a big part of Wildcats' 5-0 start
NOV 19, 2013 11:34p ET
But how does a guy who was shooting nearly 70 percent from the floor get second or third billing on a team?
Welcome to the luxury that is Arizona's starting lineup, one that includes freshman phenom Aaron Gordon and junior Nick Johnson, who was sensational for the Wildcats in getting 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists Tuesday night's 87-59 victory over Rhode Island.
Ashley came out of the shadow Tuesday when he scored 16 points and pulled down six rebounds in Arizona's quarterfinal win in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
"Brandon sometimes doesn't get as many accolades as he deserves because he is surrounded by so many other players," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "You can make the argument he can be our most important player when you think what he's doing of defense and offense."
Ashley helped lead Arizona to New York City to face Drexel in the semifinals of the NIT on Nov. 27.
"This is one of the most prestigious tournaments that college has," Miller said. "To play in Madison Square Garden is something that our players will remember forever."
Until then, they will bask -- and rest -- in the glory of being 5-0 to begin the season.
Through five games, Ashley, a long and lanky 6-foot-8 forward, is hitting 69.6 percent of his shots (23-33).
"He's shooting an incredible percentage," Miller said. "We're constantly looking to get him the ball in a good position."
Ashley, being modest, said it's not what he's doing, but what his teammates are doing.
"They find me in good position to score, and I've been able to put some shots in," he said.
Point guard T.J. McConnell was more direct in his praise: "Honestly, I don't think he could have played any better to this point. He's pretty much doing everything. He's hitting outside shots, he's rebounding, he's passing. He's pretty much doing everything for us."
Everything but staying out of foul trouble, his Achilles' heel to this point. On Tuesday he had three fouls, but he has been on the brink of fouling out or has fouled out in all the games so far.
"I'm getting used to the new rules and how the refs are calling everything," he said.
For the second consecutive night Arizona proved to be too much for its guests.
Leading the charge was Johnson who said he was awared that he was close to a triple double.
"Who wouldn’t want a triple double," he said. "I tried, but …"
Ashley joked that Johnson would not have had as many rebounds had it not been for him not blocking out.
But Ashley did his part, too, hitting from near and far, making a huge impact by scoring the team's first six points to open the second half in a game where Arizona had already secured a 43-19 halftime lead.
"He's improving, and I hate to say it, but when you are a freshman and you become a sophomore, it's amazing how much better you get," Miller said. "To go from your sophomore year to your junior year that works even better. I know it's bad (to say), but if they ever become a senior, I'm telling you, you'd be surprised how much it adds to what you've already developed."
That was perhaps Miller's plea to keep his underclassmen for another year. Good luck with that.
But in back-to-back games, Arizona has been impressive enough to allow Miller to go to his bench and audition potential replacements.
One being reserve guard Elliott Pitts, who played 14 minutes on Monday against Fairleigh Dickinson and six minutes Tuesday as Miller has eased him into a rotation that might go nine deep.
The only caution Tuesday came when Rhode Island shrunk its deficit from 31 points to 19 with eight minutes left.
Sophomore guard Gabe York put an end to the rally with a 3-pointer to make it 66-46. Arizona proceeded to increase the lead to 27.
But the game also highlighted Miller's biggest concerns: part-time defense and the team's stuttering starts.
"We weren't a cohesive unit," Miller said. "I wouldn't call us selfish as much as we had a few of those 'my-turn types of shots' where it was 'I didn't get one last time, so let me get one this time.' That never works out ... never."
But Arizona got through that and the game was a relative ease despite the second-half defensive lapse.
"We were excellent the first half, almost dominant," Miller said. "It's what happens when you have a (large) lead. We did not play as good as defense as we are capable in the second half."
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